Oak - the king of trees
Latvia – the land of Poweroaks!
Mighty oaks help Latvians love their fatherland. They are our symbols, they are source or our inspiration and power – our Poweroaks! Large oaks beautify Latvia. Love for trees is Latvian identity. For ages this love protects centenarian oaks, which are many times more in Latvia, than in other Europe.
The oldest life in Latvia
The thickest, leafiest, and oldest are oaks. Oaks of great age are the oldest life in Latvia. That’s why they are most sacred trees for Latvians, Livs, Lithuanians and all other Balt tribes and nations from Oka and Volga rivers in east to Odera and Elba rivers in west. Oaks were sacred for majority of the northern hemisphere nations. Those trees have the strongest, broadest and deepest root system, which can reach 40 and even 50 meters depth from the trunk of the giant. Oaks have the strongest and hardest braches, heaviest wood, most thick and crusty bark. Oaks have most bitter juice and that is one more reason why oaks live the longest life.
Acorns are the largest seeds of Latvian trees. Horse-chestnuts are larger, but chestnuts are not Latvian origin trees.
Oaks are beech family trees. Altogether there are 450 oak species in the world. Just one well known and beloved kind In Latvia, which in Latin is called Quercus robur.
Oaks are typical element of Latvian landscape, they are stork trees. There are no other trees with so many stork nests as oaks. There is no other place on the world with so many stork nests as Latvia.
They are owl and eagle-owl trees. Those fabulous night birds live in almost every second grand oak and hollow oak. On the second half of May owlets leave their nests. While the leaves are not blossoming and oaks are blooming, closely observing the brunches, one can succeed to notice noble owls, like from the cover of the fairytale book.
In the hollows of the giant oaks often live marvelous flying mammals – bats, and occasionally also wild ducks nest in those secure places.
Oak is home for precious creatures included in the Red Book. In the hollows of the old oaks grow rear fungus and lichen species and live insects which are included in the lists of protected plants and insects of European Union and Latvia.
Virgin oak forests
Like an ancient legend, like presumable truth, old books tell stories about time when Balt tribes came to Latvia and became Latvians. At those times all Zemgale, Kurzeme and partly Vidzeme region were covered by endless virgin oak forests. Primaeval pine forests covered infertile sand hillocks, but lower lands of Latvia were covered by oaks, oaks, and oaks.
First crop-growers of Zemgale cultivated the land, thus pushing Finno-Ugric tribes up to the less fertile costal regions in the north. Where the oaks were growing farmers of Zemgale found fertile soil. Indo-European newcomers in hard, rough work cleared woodlands, but in the middle of new tellages kept separate trees for the beauty of the land, peace of mind and for the God. Balts also kept sacred oak groves where to exalt the God, where to regale soles of the dead, where to baptize children, and where to farewell the deceased. They kept oaks near the homes to make a Midsummer Eve wreaths and to tell weather. They spare large oaks for bees and made hollows for the hives. They created harmonious world so that God, nature and work would be in conformity with a man. This conformity inherited through hundreads of generations, still can be observed nowadays in the Latvian farmsteads with hoary Grand Oaks, which withstand storms and thunderbolts. Only marks in the bark of an old trunks like dark caves, withess lightning misery from earlier centuries. In such lightning created hollows room sometimes can be found for several persons.
Many Latvian farmsteads are gone or razed to the ground, but hoary grand-oaks, like live monuments of virgin land and era, with strong roots like anchor cables hold in the place and acknowledge the homeland. Oaks show ancestral home or night-watch places, also border marks. Many ancestor holy oaks keep flourishing: Andumu sacrificial oak in Lībagu parish, Sīmanēnu holy oak in Valmieras parish, Atpiķu sacrificial oak in Trikātas parish and many others.
Symbol of power and strengths
Power of oaks are admirable. There are tenth of old oaks, whose hollows have been burned by brutes several times, leaveing just part of the trunk. Like large charred trough, slip of the oak’s trunk reaches towards sky, but the oak holds and keeps flourishing. Sometimes after the burning the oak has just one branch, but roots keep nurturing it.
Oak for Latvians is testimony of love for fatherland. Oak is symbol of Latvia. Comunists understood that and in 1974 activists of the central commitee unadvised editors of the main newspapers and magazines to publish articles about grand-oaks by nature preserve researcher Mr. Guntis Eniņš, becouse they percieved oaks to be symbol of nationalism. Poet Imants Ziedonis still managed to establisg grand-tree liberation team, because oak since ancient times is symbol of power and strengths.
“Man like an oak”, “Tall like an oak”, “Strong like an oak” – those epithets have ever been in the minds of Latvians. In Latvian folk songs and tales oak is symbol of young man, but lime-tree symbolises young woman. In the largest Latvian celebration Midsummer Eve, people make oak wreaths, decorate houses, horse cats, and cars with the oak branches.
Nowadays oak branches decorate the coat of arms or Republic of Latvia, our Lat banknotes, logos of companies and organizations. Oak is used in names, surnames and place names. Oak wreaths ar used as decoration not just in midsummer eve, but also in family celebrations, national celebrations, the song and dance festivals, openings of buildings, bridges and monuments. Oak leaf is symbol of specially protected nature territories in Latvia.
Home of Balt Good “Pērkontēvs”, tree of the world – axes that connects past, present and future. There is written testimony of oak trees, as the cult trees of ancient Latvians, dated with the Middle Ages. Knight de Lannoy in 1413 told: the Curonians burned their dead in groves on oak bonfires. Prussian chronicler Pretorius in XVII century described predictions at the oaks. Jesuit missions, starting from 1606 describe oak and linden as sacred trees in Latvia, with first standing for a man, and second – for a woman. Viljandi dean Dionysius Fabricius in 1610 mentioned, that Latvians received God’s answers from oaks. Presents and money, as well as food were placed under the crown of the oak in Ape.
Latvian collections of folk traditions and beliefs of the Latvian people tells of numerous cases, when the sacred trees’ choppers, burners or branch breakers became ill and died, or became blind, even became mad. Folk legends and beliefs have kept the people’s memory of such events together with the recognition, that sacred tree destruction can not go unpunished. In Latvian folk songs old oak giants are spoken to with great respect and affection in caressing words.
Nowadays, at the times of Awakening, ancient traditions of sacrifice at the Latvian grand oaks and oak dressing have recovered. People bind garters or “dzīpars” - beautiful threads to the branches of oak or around the trunk. Wreaths of flowers or grass are hung on lower branches, some rings or coins are being placed under the bark. It is our deep love for oaks, that survived years of oppression, continues and expresses to form again.
Latvia – the wonderland of grand trees
In distant antiquity Latvia was mostly covered with oak forests and the climate was different. Even now, more than half of Latvia is covered with forests, but it’s not even one hundredth part from what had been impenetrable thickets of oak rainforests, only half a percent. The history of oak destruction in Latvia is long and cruel. During the period of Duchy of Courland and especially during the reign of Duke Jacob remaining oak forests fell as a victim of the fast-growing marine industry and other fields of industry. In XIX century, in four years alone (1848-1852) in Kurzeme Kandavas forests the Russian Empire’s Maritime Administration cut nearly 8 million. m3 of oaks.
However, new ones were also planted. In XVII century, in Swedish-administered Vidzeme was a law that anyone who cut down a single oak, must plant two new ones instead.
The story of the Latvian giants - the oaks, is the most striking and most wondrous story. Most of the grand trees in terms of quantity are the oaks, while all other tree species make up only a small part. And that's without taking into account, that during the construction of communism until 1979, specialy dedicated team of bombers every year has been annualy blowing up about 1,000 oaks. It was reflected in bombers’ reports, but how many trees were burned down, poisoned by the poisonous sollutions, as well as with gasoline or lub, agricultural chemicals, flooded down, or destructed in any other way, can no longer be counted.
Noone has yet been able to clarify the phenomenon of Latvian grand oaks. After all widespread grand oak destruction, the number of grand oaks in Latvia is a hundred times higher than in Lithuania and Estonia, and also many times higher, than in other European countries. With this, Latvia stands proud before other countries of the world.
Latvia is the land of oaks. Latvia is the wonderland of grand oaks!
The most sumptuous grand oak is identified to stand in Mēru park of Bilskas parish, Valka district, with crown projection of 820m2 and height of 27m. The highest grand three once grew in Dižstendes Park, Talsi District, 5.18m thick, with monolith trunk raising its crown 32 m high. Unfortunately, it was casted down by the storm in January, 2005.
Many more grand trees in Latvia nowadays
Since the spring 2010, the 16th of March, much smaller criteria for the size of the trees, which are protected and considered to be grand trees, were presented. We became aware of, and understand our wealth, and now identify grand trees under the same fixed criteria as all over Europe.
The new regulations of the Cabinet of Ministers No. 264 "General regulations on protection and use of specially protected nature areas" contain the title “Protected trees”. This table contains the protected trees’ – pgrand trees’ girth and height, at which the tree gets protected in Latvia. The oak is to reach the girth of 4m on a height of 1.3 m above the ground level to become a Grand Oak, or it has to reach 32m in height. Earlier grand oak in Latvia was identified on achievement of 5m girth.
Protected area or grand tree may be marked with a special "oak leaf” mark. The preparation and placement of such marks is ensured by the Nature Conservation Agency in cooperation with the relevant municipal authorities.
The regulations also ban activities that may harm the tree growth and natural development in rural areas and in towns. For example, the prohibition to place building material or firewood, which obscures the view of the tree, limits the access to it, or reduces its esthetic value. In addition, if the protected tree is suppressed by bushes, the cutting of bushes is allowed under the crown of the tree and in the adjacent area, by creating 10 meter wide bushes-free zone.
Latvia is the wonderland of grand trees! These new regulations give us the opportunity to protect much larger number of our grand trees. Let’s use it, let’s measure, care, protect and love our grand trees!
300 years to grow, 300 years to mature, 300 years to perish
Highest oaks are not necessarily the thickest. On the contrary, the breadth record holders are low and usually with small, narrow crown. Latvians have an expression: “An oak grows up in 300 years, matures in 300 years, and perishes in 300 years.”
Not one grand oak has grown up in a forest, under the siege of other competing trees. All thick oak giants have grown up apart - unusually thick, with short trunks, low, but enormously wide branches-shoulders, like the ancient Latvian men, rending clearances, holding the plows’ handles. Folk song tells, that such low-branchers, breadth record holders, have grown up "on a sunny trail”, where the sunrays could caress it, and the mighty oak didn’t have to grow upwards, in competition for the sunlight with other trees, but the branches could spread wide, like loving hands. Look at the huge branches of such oaks, each of which is like the whole big tree, spreading not very high parallel to the ground, and daughters on Līgo midsummer night can "break the low-branchers branches, standing on the hill".
The first stage: “an oak grows up in 300 years” - this means that the first few centuries the oak grows in heigth and sumptuousness. The second stage: "the oak matures in 300 years" - this means that during this period the crown of the oak is no longer growing in size, but low-brancher’s trunk grows in thickness. The third stage: "the oak perishes in 300 years" - this means that the oak crown decreases in size, with centuries passing, hoary giant one after another loses big, rot affected branches. The oldest and thickest oaks often live their last decades with only one or a few twigs’ prongs. These oldest oaks are most sensitive to the new trees’ and shrubs’ shading.